Since we first read about the inkjet printer that spits out living tissue instead of ink for essays and birthday cards, we've been waiting for the day a 3D printer rises to the challenge of producing human flesh. There's precedent for 3D printing in the medical community: Just recently, a 3D printed implant was used to replace part of a man's skull. And now the inevitable's happened: Surprising Science posted a blog on Thursday about a 3D printer producing a material similiar to human tissue.
"Graduate student Gabriel Villar and his colleagues at the University of Oxford developed tiny solids that behave as biological tissue would. The delicate material physically resembles brain and fat tissue, and has the consistency of soft rubber," writes Surprising Science.
Villar's study explains that they used a specially designed 3D printer to print "tens of thousands of picoliter aqueous droplets," which isn't so unlike how a normal inkjet printer would operate. The difference, of course, is that the drops contain lipids, much like tissue. The drops are also absolutely tiny--a picoliter is one trillionth of a liter, and it's hard to appreciate how small these tissue arrangements are.
The structure of the printed tissue allows for electrical signals to travel across specific pathways like the neurons in brain tissue. The 3D printed material is hardly a replacement for real, living tissue at this point, but it's a step in that direction. The study notes "printed droplet networks might be interfaced with tissues, used as tissue engineering substrates, or developed as mimics of living tissue." 3D printed skin is coming. It's just a matter of time.